The mothers who say Missouris hospital stole their babies in the ’60s told them they had died

Eighteen black women who were told decades ago that their babies had died soon after birth at a St. Louis hospital now wonder if the infants were taken away by hospital officials to be raised by other families.

The suspicions arose from the story of Zella Jackson Price, who was 26 in 1965 when she gave birth at Homer G. Phillips Hospital in St. Louis. Hours later, she was told that her daughter had died, but she never saw a body or a death certificate.

No one is sure who was responsible, but Price’s daughter ended up in foster care, only to resurface almost 50 years later. Melanie Gilmore, who now lives in Eugene, Oregon, has said that her foster parents always told her she was given up by her birth mother.

Price’s attorney, Albert Watkins, is asking city and state officials to investigate. In a letter to Gov. Jay Nixon and St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, Watkins said he suspects the hospital coordinated a scheme ‘to steal newborns of color for marketing in private adoption transactions.’

The women’s story spread in recent weeks after Gilmore’s children tracked down her birth mother as part of a plan to mark their mother’s 50th birthday. The search led them to the now 76-year-old Price, who lives in suburban St. Louis.

In March, an online video caused a sensation when it showed the moment that Gilmore, who is deaf, learned through lip reading and sign language that her birth mother had been found.

The two women reunited in April. DNA confirmed that they are mother and daughter.

‘She looked like me,’ said Price, a gospel singer who has five other children.

‘She was so excited and full of joy. It was just beautiful. I’ll never forget that,’ she said of the reunion.

After the reunion, Watkins started getting calls from other women who wondered if their babies, whom they were told had died, might have instead been taken from them.

Their stories, he said, are strikingly similar: Most of the births were in the mid-1950s to mid-1960s at Homer G. Phillips. All of the mothers were black and poor, mostly ages 15 to 20.

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